What's mad and what's not
The MPs' debate yesterday afternoon about the government's planned restrictions to FOI was mainly notable for the contribution from the junior constitutional affairs minister Vera Baird.
Those MPs who participated made the expected arguments about the impact of the proposed regulations, and the frequent references they made to their local newspapers must be testament to the energetic lobbying work of the Society of Editors and the Newspaper Society.
Responding to their points, and combative as always, Vera Baird denounced as 'mad' the idea of not allowing public authorities to count time spent reading documents towards the cost limit. However, interestingly she didn't make any such defence of the proposal to also include time spent considering the exemptions and consulting others, which is much more controversial and widely criticised than the suggestion to incorporate reading time.
She also failed to make any significant defence of the plan to allow aggregation of non-related requests, limiting her remarks on this to some minor debating points.
Does all this indicate that ministers will not retreat on the reading time proposal but are leaving themselves room to do so on other parts of their plans?
Since Baird took time out to have a swipe at the BBC, I feel I ought to respond. I have explained previously why the cost estimates given for the BBC's use of FOI are grossly exaggerated and methodologically flawed.
All I can suggest now is that those people in the DCA who do not understand the total innumeracy of multiplying one upper bound of a 95% confidence interval by another and then asserting that the result is in any way a plausible figure should perhaps consult Alex Allan, the permanent secretary at the DCA. Since he has a degree in statistics, hopefully he can explain it to them.